When you decide to start bike racing at the age of 54, people think either you have delayed onset mid-life crisis, or you have simply lost your mind. I prefer to view it as finding my inner athlete at a mature age. Nevertheless, whether you are 54 or 24, pinning on a number for the first time carries with it some anxiety and perhaps a few questions. For this I turned to Cat 2 Racer and mentor, Lanier Allen, with Stages Cycling Team. Lanier patiently answered all my questions and did not even once, laugh at the pedestrian level of my newbieness. I will always be grateful for her willingness to help and endless encouragement.
K: How do I decide which races would be a good fit for me to enter? If I am new to racing, where should I start?
L: Look at the different types of races, and pick which one is most similar to the riding you enjoy and are experienced with. Individual time trials are ideal first races, because they are solo efforts with you against the clock and no drafting allowed. Hill climbs usually spread out quickly at the first pitch, so they would be good to consider as well. If you are comfortable riding in tight quarters with a pack, you could try a road race or criterium. You might want to go watch one of those races first to get a sense for them.
K: If I am considered masters (which is age 40 and over), should I enter a race as a SW4 or a 40 or 50+?
L: SW4 (Senior Women Category 4) is a race of all ages, despite the name. Everyone in the race will be a Category 4, which is the first category for beginner racers. MW40+/MW50+ (Masters Women 40+ or 50+) is age-based, but open to all categories. So in the SW4 field, you will be with others with similar racing experience, and in the Masters fields you could find yourself racing ex-pros. If your goal is to upgrade to Cat 3, your best bet is to race Cat 4. But it really depends on your reasons for racing! You’ll learn by racing with and watching the more experienced racers in the Masters categories. One of the perks of age – choice!
K: How early do I need to be there and what should do when I get there?
L: Arrive 1.5-2 hrs before the race start to get numbers, pin them, and make sure your bike is set up. For a road race a 20-30 min warm up is all that is needed. Do some easy riding with a few bursts to get your heart rate up. I prefer to warm up on the road, but usually take my trainer in case the road is too busy or not available. Finish your warm up 20 min before the start, use the facilities, double check your number is pinned on the correct side. Line up 5 min before the race starts.
K: Where IS the correct place to pin on a number?
L: Either the left side or right side of your jersey, pinned lengthwise along your body so the officials can easily read your number when you are on your bike. Ask which side at registration, as it varies by race.
K: What do I have on my bike during the race?
L: Remove all bike bags. Race courses are monitored, so someone will get to you if something goes wrong. Some take a spare tube and CO2 cartridge in their jersey for longer road races, especially if there is no wheel support.
K: What about nutrition and hydration?
L: I carry snacks in my jersey pockets. Plan on 100 calories every 30-40 min. Gels work if you tolerate them. Whatever is easy for you to eat while riding hard. For a race an hour or less I have one bottle filled with water. For a longer race I like Scratch or Osmo on one bottle and water in the other. Arrive to the race well hydrated. I eat a good meal 2-3 hrs before the race, sip a sports drink on the way, and take a gel just before the race starts. Caffeine can be your friend in racing, but too much makes me nervous and jumpy.
During the Race
K: I hear people talking about crashes during a race, is this common?
L: Everyone is nervous, even if they’ve raced for years. Do your best to stay calm and alert, and ride smoothly and predictably. Hold your line, meaning stay on a straight path with no weaving side to side. No sudden braking – feather your brakes or better still, ease up on the pedals. Keep alongside or behind, not in-between. If your front wheel is overlapping the back wheel, and they move over, you will go down, so avoid half-wheeling if possible or communicate. Focus on keeping your elbows slightly bent and your shoulders relaxed. Keeping your hands in the drops allows for better control of the bike.
K: What about bumping?
L: Communicate. Most do this verbally in a Cat 4 race, but someone might touch your hip to let you know they are there. Sometimes they’ll yell if someone isn’t riding smoothly, and that is usually because something has scared them. Note how others are riding. If you notice someone not holding their line, braking hard, or even if you just get a bad feeling, trust your instinct and shift to another spot in the group.
K: Any other advice about crashes?
L: Stay alert but don’t worry too much about crashing. It is part of racing, but doesn’t happen in every race. You can avoid them just like you would in a car. Ride defensively, and always look behind you before moving over. The race is only as squirrely as you let it be. Being competitive is a good thing, but be careful to ride within your limits. Staying too close to wheels without the handling skills, or jockeying for position too aggressively is usually what causes crashes. Perhaps consider staying back a bit and then get around them. Go for it at the line. Good luck! You will do great.
K: Thanks, Lanier.
Look for Kate Williams searching for safety pins at races this summer. Follow us on instagram at @NakedWomenRacing.
For more information about scheduled races in Colorado or to join a women’s road clinic visit www.coloradocycling.org.